WASHINGTON -- Illinois public employee unions struck back Thursday, filing a lawsuit to block Gov. Bruce Rauner's attempt to prevent them from collecting certain mandatory fees from workers.
Twenty-seven unions, representing more than 40,000 state employees, are challenging an executive order from the Republican governor aimed at so-called fair-share fees. In Illinois, public employees who are not union members must pay these fees, in lieu of dues, to cover the costs of collective bargaining that benefits them. The state's public sector unions are required to represent all workers in a collective bargaining unit, even if they are not dues-paying members.
But Rauner argues that fair-share fees violate the First Amendment because, he claims, they are used to pay for unions' political activities -- something that the unions say is simply untrue. Last month, he issued an executive order stopping collection of the fees.
In the state court lawsuit, the unions contend that Rauner has exceeded his authority and bypassed Illinois labor law, which allows them to receive fair-share fees. The unions also accuse the governor of wanting to lower the wages of public employees in the state.
“Governor Rauner’s political obsession with stripping their rights and driving down their wages demeans their service, hurts the middle class and is blatantly illegal. We’re asking the court to restore the integrity of our democratic process and make clear that no one, not Governor Rauner or anyone else, can place themselves above the law," Michael T. Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, said in a statement on Thursday. Carrigan's group is a party to the lawsuit.
In a statement responding to the suit, Rauner denounced what he called "forced union dues."
“We always expected the government union bosses to fight to keep their stranglehold over Illinois taxpayers in place. These forced union dues are a critical cog in the corrupt bargain that is crushing taxpayers, and the government unions will do anything to keep the broken status quo,” he said.
Rauner also is seeking a declaratory judgment in federal court that would rule fair-share fees unconstitutional, which the unions on Thursday said they would file a motion to dismiss. In defiance of the views of the state's Democratic attorney general and its Republican comptroller, the governor has ordered state agencies to withhold fair-share fees from unions while the federal case is pending.